Midday Market Update: Bernanke Testimony Hints at More Easing

By Jennifer Yousfi
Managing Editor

Stocks moved forward for the fourth consecutive day as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke's testified before Congress today that the Fed would "act in a timely manner" to mitigate "downside risks" to the U.S. economy.

At noon ET, the three major U.S. stock indices had all posted gains. The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average Index had a 61.63-point increase (0.49%), to trade at 12,746.55. The tech-laden Nasdaq Composite Index gained 17.51 points (0.75%), to reach 2,362.50. And the broader Standard & Poor's 500 Index increased 6.45 points (0.47%), to settle at 1,387.74.

The healthcare (-0.15%), transportation (-0.45%) and utilities (-0.21%) sectors were all down. The largest gains were seen in the basic materials (1.31%) and consumer cyclical (0.99%) sectors.

Home mortgage leaders Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE) received regulatory approval to increase the size of their portfolios, causing both stocks to rise.

"If liquidity is restored to the mortgage market it has a good chance of restoring liquidity to the rest of the credit markets," Thomas Lee, chief U.S. equity strategist at New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), told Bloomberg News. "[There are] a lot of companies having a tough time accessing capital because the banks are at the center of the credit crisis."

In overseas markets, Japan's Nikkei Index increased 1.5% with a 206.58-point gain to reach a new six-week closing high of 14,031.30. Hong Kong's blue-chip Hang Seng Index increased 769.06 points to close at 24,483.84.

In Europe, the major indices were narrowly mixed with the Paris-based CAC40 and London's FTSE 100 down, while Madrid's IBEX 35 and the Frankfurt-based DAX were slightly up.

At midday, the dollar had lost ground against the euro [down 1.543%], the yen [down 1.178%] and the pound sterling [down 0.850%].

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